The Empathy Tax

I had to deal with this today. And I have to deal with it at least a few times a week. And that is someone asking me for my money. “Hey, I need to eat, can you spare some change?” “Hey I need to catch the bus, do you have some change?” “I’m travelling between towns/jobs, can you spare some cash?” Speaking of which: I’m an unrepentant size XXL Dick; what do you think I said?

I live pretty close to and work in a major metropolitan city in the U.S. (I’ll let you figure out which city that is.) And in every major city in every state, or every major province if you don’t live in the U.S.A., you will run across the same kind of people: the homeless, the beggars, the mentally ill on the street, and the nonprofit and charity people championing for many people like them.

You may be prepositioned on the street on the fly by a person with a cardboard sign, or a pamphlet; maybe it’s at the checkout line at the local grocery store or pharmacy that has those paper blimps or hearts or other shaped posters you can write your name on if you give a dollar to the cause. Maybe someone will position themselves to approach you ‘naturally’ as you get into or out of your car or on and off your bike, to ask if you have some change for the bus, or that they’re hungry and just want a few cents to buy some chicken nuggets or fries from the local fast food place.

Maybe it’s a commercial, whether its on TV, Netflix, a YouTube ad, or anything like it, where it tells you the plight of some group of people, children, or even animals and pets, all of which are suffering. They also share how convenient it would be to send them money to help them out. “For less than a cup of coffee a day, you can help out the x_______!” “If you give your time at x________ volunteer center, you can make a difference in some kid’s lives'” “For $x___ a day, you can help get Sarah McLaughlin to stop making you suicidally depressed!”

Let me help categorize all of this time, money and energy spent in this way for you: its called the Empathy Tax. To give you a textbook definition: Empathy Tax: a part of your income you pay to people you believe need your money more than you do. If you live in the U.S.A., or any other place that demands a part of your income to pay for things, you should be familiar with this concept. In this case, it is directly dependent on your empathy for other people. It appeals to your sense of charity, and caring for other people, in a way that does not benefit you personally. It requires you to think about the well being of others and how you can help them benefit in the short term using your own resources, whether or not that takes away from your own welfare.

I’ll make this message plain: you NEVER need to pay this tax. Let’s make this clear: when you give your money away, you are giving away your time. Your time that you spend putting in work to earn that money, which you accept so you can use it to buy the goods and services that are made with other peoples time, in a way that makes your remaining time more enjoyable. When you give in to this tax, aside from that feeling you “helped” someone else, you are giving up some of your ability to make your life awesome, or even better, the life of someone else you actually care about.

Again, the empathy tax is not an official federal tax. You don’t need to pay this. The one thing keeping you from paying this are your emotions and, well, empathy (hey, that’s where the name comes from!) Your sympathy and empathy is what forces you to give that guy “some change”, or that Education Activist group a dollar on top of your grocery bill. It’s merely a cut of the income you have that you’re, frankly, coerced into giving away. Income you could’ve used to go to that national park, or that gourmet restaurant, or whatever you want to experience in your one shot at life. Or hell, money you could use to help family or friends you actually know that could legitimately use the help!

I’m not saying any of this to demonize empathy or kindness, or convince you to never be a caring person or donate to any cause; if I wanted to do that I’d talk about all the organizations and people that are charlatans and profitting off you. If you want to give someone your money, good for you. But at the end of the day, you have control of where your money goes, and unlike social security, or Medicare, you have control over this tax; whether you pay it is entirely up to you. Though keep in mind: unless you paid a specific organization and asked for a receipt, it isn’t even tax deductible. So if you’re going to pay people based on your feelings, at least make it a write off!

The financial costs of “growing up”

“Grow up.” “Take responsibility.” “Be a man.” Have you been told this? Let’s keep it simple: if you’ve gone through puberty, and particularly if you have a vagina seeking penis, that’s an overwhelming “YES!!!” You hear it from your friends, your family and parents, the media, social, mainstream and otherwise, and way too many other sources to list here. 


To put it simply: your everyday life, from the moment you are born until today, this message is pounded into your head incessantly, to the point that the average person of the average intelligence, and even some that have higher intellect, will accept it as the gospel truth, if for no other reason than that it’s broadcasted in pretty much every aspect of your life. And for the sake of simplicity, rather than go over all of them (because I’m certain I’d miss about 1006 of them) I’m going to point out the 5 main things people use as landmarks of adulthood and “success”.


Funny thing about this article: I originally was going to go into a bit of detail on these 5 things, but this took weeks to fully research, and even the minimum writing went way past the word limit set on my typing tool, so for this article I’ll simply cite the numbers, and cover them in later articles. Besides, if you’re the Average Idiot reading this, numbers probably don’t matter to you, and neither would any proof I have. Thanks for saving me a bit of work!

Anyway, here’s what I personally came up with:

  • The average person can be expected to earn about $35,000/yr., which given a 40 year work career adds up to $1.4 million USD over their lifetime. For the purposes of this article I rounded up to 1.5 million. Hey, sometimes I’m a nice guy! Keep this figure in mind, it’ll be important later.
  • Owning a new car: buying a new car every 6.5 years on average, at $33,000 each, paying over $9,000/yr. in value depreciation and other costs of ownership, even trading it in at a value of $13,200, you’re looking at a broad average of about $609,000!
  • Owning a house: the median sticker price is $214,000. You don’t have $214,000 in your pocket, so you’ll probably take out a 30 year mortgage to pay for it. At an average cost of $1,500/mo., this ends up being $18,000/yr., and $540,000 over 30 of them. Aside from this being well over sticker price for the home itself, it doesn’t cover the thousands of different expenses of owning a home that are covered when you rent (something to keep in mind when you see rent for $1,500 and think you’re “throwing your money away.”)
  • Marriage: let’s face facts: if you’re a straight guy, this cost goes way beyond the sticker price of marriage. But as for the marriage itself, the average cost is $29,858. And since most married couples get divorced, they also pay $15,500 for that as well. Not as big a number as the last two, but given shelter and transportation is necessary, this is a pure waste of money.
  • Having children: The minimum one kid will cost is about $250,000, just to raise to 18. Any parent that didn’t use the government to help pay for it will tell you this is grossly underestimated, with some estimates reaching $400,000. This goes up, obviously, when you have more, with my calculations reaching a conservative number of $577,374.20 if you end up with 3.
  • College: good lord! With all of these expenses, you certainly need a higher education to land that high paying job! With the average person going for at least a Bachelor’s, expect to pay close to $33,000 for it. Again, that’s conservative. There are people that get grants and government funding to pay for their degree, but there are plenty of horror stories out there of people with 6 figure college debt. A horror indeed if you chose a worthless major.

To be perfectly clear: I’m in no way saying you should never do any of these. If any of these are what you want, and you can afford it and are adequately educated for and prepared to deal with them, then by all means go for it. This isn’t to tell you to absolutely never do any of these. The point I’m making is that many of these are decisions people make because of, frankly, what other people said they should do. “You need to own a home!” “It’s time for you to get serious and get married!” “Why haven’t you had kids yet? It’s time for you to settle down!” “You’re still driving that old clunker? Time for you to get s new car!” “You don’t want to be a burger flipper at McDonald’s, do you!? Go to college!” Have you been told one of these? Some variant of it perhaps? Do you think peer pressure is a good reason to write a 5-6 figure check several times over?

Speaking of which, none of this talks about how much debt people go into to pay for this. The thing that boggled my mind was that the amount that the average person made in their lifetime ($1,400,000) wasnt enough to cover the expenses of taking all of these on (close to 1,800,000). Even taking into account that feeding, shelter and other living costs were factored in to at least the housing and children expenses, it didn’t really add up, as you can see here. However, the thought that helps explain it is that the average American is in debt. In debt from many things, but these are often the costliest. And the sad truth is that many people will never pay these debts off. Just taking the figures here, the average American will die with nearly 400K in debt, which has huge implications for the country on its own.

That’s not what this article is for though. This is about you. Objectively, you only have one life to live. You have these precious few years to enjoy mortality; even if you believe in an afterlife, its on a different plane than this one, in which you will no longer have any agency nor influence. In short: this is it. Is that what you want to spend your money on? Instead of, say, exploring different countries, eating great food, having awesome experiences, you borrow your way into the grave to finance other people’s desires? And if you care about the future, look at that figure above: do you really want to leave your loved ones, or the country or government you reside in, with debt you never paid back, leaving your descendants to pay it for you? 

This has gone way past the size it was supposed to be, but its a huge subject; this has to be said.

To recap: I’m not saying you should absolutely never do any of these. Personally, I say you shouldn’t, but that’s me. If you can have that new car, go for it. If you think you and your sex partner will birth the new master race and you can pay for it, jizz away. You want a piece of property to call your own, enjoy those property taxes and put up those “Get Off My Lawn!” signs. But, for Zeus’s sake, if you’re going to do any of these, at least make sure you’re doing them for you. Nothing is worse than paying the price other people told you to for something you may not have even wanted. Make your decisions wisely.

Bernie Sanders and the average American today

One of the biggest stereotypes of Sanders supporters is that they want everything handed to them. From free education, to free healthcare, to a “living” wage, all of which is supposed to be paid by everyone that makes more money than them, it seems like they are the laziest people in the world, or to be even more blunt, parasites. And in a functional sense, they are. Asking for things that you don’t earn is a handout, or charity; that’s pretty straightforward.

In their defense, asking to be bailed out of bad situation, or bad decisions, unfortunately has a precedence in this country (This country being the U.S.A, by the way). This is a country that bailed out banks for giving out loans to people that could never pay them back. The same one that saved failing automotive companies. And even the same one that sent out free money via stimulus checks to the public, not to mention the many breaks and subsidies we offer people for decisions they make, and what they spend their money on. For good or bad, we now have a government that has set a standard for forgiving stupid mistakes and paying for people’s lifestyles.

So when people today ask why they can’t have their degree paid for (whether it benefits us or not), or get free healthcare, in today’s society where the big businesses have had major help, its seemingly unfair to not help them too. And that’s the mindset they have: that the government should be required to help them do whatever they want. That the government should make everyone give them a high minimum wage, low prices for everything, cheap housing, etc. Whatever the question is, the answer is ” someone else will provide.”

That’s why they vote for Bernie. For all of our advancements as a species, the reality is that humans are fundamentally lazy. Whether that ends up with more efficiency or no work done depends on the situation, but biologically that’s the truth. And for the average person, it’s much easier to lay their faith in someone else, rather than figure out for themselves how to make their own lives better. You hear this argument all the time. In this case, with Sanders supporters: “Bernie will make college free, and make the government pay for it.” “Bernie will get free healthcare and tax big banks for pay for it.” “Bernie will make the  1% pay 300,905.6% in taxes and pay us all a living wage.”

Notice a pattern with those (one of those is an actual quote by the way)? All of them require someone else, like Bernie, to solve the problem they have. I’m not making a living wage? Bernie Sanders will provide. Can’t afford housing for my spouse and 3 kids? Bernie Sanders will provide. At no point do they take responsibility for their own actions, or work out solutions to make their own lives better, aside from sharing voting info to support Sanders. So when it comes to stereotypes about the Sanders supporters, that is on the money, but at a more basic level.

They want to be taken care of, and since they saw bigger entities than them get that treatment, they feel justified. And in seeking that care, and that paycheck, and that government aid, they sacrifice their own power of autonomy. They become dependent on the system to provide what they will not, or cannot, provide for themselves. In seeking the care of everyone else, they lose the ability to care for their own. And they aren’t even unjustified to ask, because look at the companies that got help already!

Look, Sanders supporters, I get it. Shit’s tough. Its hard making a living today. And you saw others get free money to keep going, so why shouldn’t you, right? Answer: to be worth a goddamn, that’s why. To have value. Its easy to be on welfare and subsist on others, whether its the government, your parents, friends, etc. But those that produce have value, and therefore power. They’re the ones that call the shots, because they have what everyone (including you) want, whether you like it or not.  But contrary to what you were told, this isn’t set in stone, you have a choice: you can seek that power, or you can give it to others to provide for you. But if you choose the latter, to wait for someone else to take and use that power, don’t complain about how they use it, when you could’ve used it yourself.

How to make decisions

This is a test article I am running at the moment. It will likely be changed or updated at some point, but for the most part, it should still prove helpful to you.

There are two proven ways to assess whether doing something is worth it, along with one way I have narrowed down for myself.

Cost/Benefit ratio: how much will this cost versus how much will it benefit you. Example: Buying a candy bar: $.50 for a few moments of delicious satisfaction? Probably worth it. Living on candy bars: $70 a week on one food you’ll be sick of in 3 days and will quickly rob you of your teeth, waistline and dignity? Not a very savvy investment.

Reward/Risk ratio: what the payoff for doing something is compared to the potential backlash. Example: Giving the finger to someone that cut you off in traffic: could cause a newsworthy story of road rage, but will likely do nothing but piss them off and make you feel just a little better. Ramming their car off the road? That will certainly let them know you’re angry at them, but will also damage both vehicles (which you’ll be liable for financially), possibly cause bodily harm to you both, and will certainly cause you quite a bit of legal trouble, amongst other problems.

They do have a key difference: the first emphasizing a known cost, the latter a potential cost. But both are fairly similar, in that both highlight a payoff for yourself, whether material or not. The method I like to use is two-fold:

1. Does the real world reward/benefit outweigh the risk/cost and effort?

2. If not, will it be entertaining enough to justify it? For example, I once bought a drink for some loser at a bar I was sitting at. Waste of $7 in an investment sense, but the show I got watching him stumble around and make a total ass of himself was the most hilarious thing I had seen all week, so in my head this was totally justified. Had this cost me, say, more than $50, or had somehow gotten me into legal trouble, I might sing a different tune about this, but it cost me very little for quite a show.

How does this apply to you? Obviously this isn’t to say you should treat your choice to grab those Reese’s cups at the checkout line like a life or death dilemma: that’s trading a dollar for a treat. But many decisions you make, or are told to make, tend to be very high on the risk/cost side, but with no guaranteed benefit/reward. A few of the things I am against, like marriage, kids, owning a home, getting that doctorate in sociology, etc., happen to be the highest risk for what is arguably a widely varying field of reward.

In your life, you will be faced with many choices, some more important, others more trivial. How you approach those choices will more or less dictate how your life will end up, so it’s very pertinent for you to work out how to make these choices for yourself, and more importantly, learn how to remove emotion from the more important ones. It’s understandable to impulse buy a bacon wrapped Snicker’s, because you only spent like $2 and an hour on the toilet is probably the worst consequence you’ll face (and let’s face it: a bacon wrapped Snicker’s is goddamn worth it).

It’s much harder to take out a loan to buy a Lamborghini and a pet tiger with the same logic. Both are probably awesome to own for a while, but the $2000 oil changes and the regular child maulings aren’t an expense you want to have in the future. And to throw in one that’s both high risk and reward: you could be in dangerous territory, and choosing to escape means you may die, but staying means you will certainly die; choosing to escape is high risk, but the reward is getting away from guaranteed death.

I can’t tell you which each and every single choice is right for you; that’s for you to decide. But, in no small part of watching people take every choice like “it’s destiny” or it’s “meant to happen” or “they deserved it”, and the suffering that comes with it, I implore you to at least figure out for yourself how to make a judgment call to tell whether what you’re about to do, or buy, or participate in, will benefit you, or your future. And in the end, you’re the only one in control of what you do in your future; you might as well pave part of that path for yourself. Hell, if nothing else, make that choice entertaining. You owe at least that to yourself, right?